Howard Brofsky "Dr. Bebop"
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1927-2013 On Thursday, October 17th Howard Brofsky (Dr. Bebop) passed away peacefully at his home in Brooklyn. He was 86 years old. His love for others was communicated through words and deeds, but was most clearly expressed by the vulnerable and beautiful sounds he coaxed from his cornet. A gentle man who left behind a staggering legacy of accomplishments, Brofsky's crowning achievement was that he was an authentic man, a loving father, husband, friend and mentor. He leaves his wife and soul mate, Robin Westen, their son Gabriel Sky Westen; son Alex Brofsky and wife, Helene Lantry; daughter Natasha Brofsky and husband Roger Tapping and their children, Cordelia and Eleanor Tapping. Brofsky's scope can perhaps be best exemplified by the deep effect he had on jazz legend Jimmy Heath who, upon hearing of his passing, wrote: "I feel like I lost my brother. Dr. Bebop gave me a new life and I will always be grateful and humbled by what he did for me." Howard Brofsky was born in Brooklyn, NY on May 2nd, 1927. He studied trumpet with Nat Prager of the NY Philharmonic and composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He earned his MA and Ph. D at New York University in 18th Century Italian classical music. Concurrent with his traditional studies, Brofsky was a jazz performer who absorbed the bebop idiom during its zenith. Brofsky was Professor Emeritus at Queens College; a passionate instructor, he was still teaching ten days prior to his passing. He also taught at the University of Chicago, University of British Columbia, Boston University, and the University of Oslo. Brofsky received Fulbright Awards to study and teach in France (1953) and Italy (1972). He spoke five languages. His first recording was made in Paris, 1955. He coauthored the widely used college textbook The Art of Listening: Developing Musical Perception and published numerous articles on eighteenth century Italian music and jazz. Brofksy was "the primary architect" of the jazz MA program at Queens College; he had the vision and power to facilitate the hiring of jazz luminaries to the faculty (Jimmy Heath, Donald Byrd and Sir Roland Hanna) and thus established a prescient mentorship connection between students and the jazz lineage. Brofsky was also instrumental in the establishment of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives. As a musician, Brofsky performed as a leader and enjoyed a long tenure in the bands of his friend, artist Larry Rivers. He released an acclaimed CD (73 Down: Dr. Bebop) in 2000 featuring his work with Larry Willis, Attila Zoller and other jazz greats. He also performed with Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, David Amram and many others. Each May he celebrated his birthday at the Vermont Jazz Center with a concert featuring New York players such as Antonio Hart, Charles McPherson, Jimmy Heath, Jeb Patton, David Berkman, and David Wong. His friend, drummer Jimmy Wormworth stated "Dr. Bebop is a legendary New Yorker for cats in the know." Howard fell in love with the Green Mountain State about thirty years ago when he visited to assist guitarist Attila Zoller with the curriculum for the fledgling Vermont Jazz Center. Since that time his Brooklyn-heart has remained intractably connected to the hills of Vermont. Brofsky, his wife Robin and their son Gabe moved there in 1992; he served as President of the Board of Directors at the VJC for almost two decades before moving back to Brooklyn. For the last several years of his life, he had a steady gig in DUMBO at 68 Jay Street, a venerable artist's hangout where he took special pleasure in performing with his accomplished former students from around the world. From Brooklyn to Brattleboro, wherever Dr. Bebop hung his hat, communities of jazz lovers are feeling the loss of his glowing presence. Donations in Howard Brofsky's memory can be made to the Vermont Jazz Center scholarship fund.
Published in Brattleboro Reformer on Oct. 21, 2013